Roman-Style Chicken Cacciatore

You know chicken cacciatore–chicken made with vegetables, herbs, and tons of tomatoes–right? Well, this is Roman-style chicken cacciatore, with not a tomato in sight. Rather, the bird (commonly guinea hen) is simmered with garlic, rosemary, white wine, and a wee bit of anchovies for umami. Still want a tomato-based dish? Here you go.

Skillet and plate with Roman chicken cacciatore--chicken pieces, rosemary, and garlic on white wood

You thought you knew chicken cacciatore. An Italian classic, right? With chicken and tomatoes, right?–Renee Schettler Rossi

What Does The Name Cacciatore Mean, Anyways?!

Where does the naming convention cacciatore, which in Italy is more traditionally referred to as “alla cacciatora,” come from? The authors explain that “cacciatora” means ‘hunter’s wife,’ and in times past she would have had to rustle up a bubbling hot-pot from anything her hunter hubby dragged home from a hunt. Over the years it became an expression for a stew of mixed meats, usually cooked with tomatoes, wine, and herbs. In Rome, however, ‘alla cacciatora’ implies meat stewed with rosemary, vinegar and anchovies, with not one tomato in sight. This dish probably dates all the way back to ancient Rome when tomatoes had not been brought ashore from South America and often foods were flavored with herbs, vinegar and a dash of garum, the pungent anchovy sauce. The hunter’s catch could be rabbit, chicken, lamb, guinea fowl (which is our favorite as it has so much flavor) or even a meaty fish such as swordfish or monkfish.” There you have it. Perfect chit chat for your next dinner party where this impressive yet easy recipe is the centerpiece.

Roman-Style Chicken Cacciatore

  • Quick Glance
  • (4)
  • 25 M
  • 1 H, 30 M
  • Serves 6
4.8/5 - 4 reviews
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Season the chicken pieces generously all over with salt and pepper. Heat the pork fat or oil in the biggest lidded frying pan you have (or use 2 if you can’t fit all the chicken comfortably into 1 pan) and add the garlic and rosemary.

Fry for 2 to 3 minutes over a medium heat until you can smell the herbs strongly; this will flavor the oil. Remove the herbs from the pan before they have a chance to burn and set aside for later. Fry the chicken pieces on all sides for about 10 minutes, browning all over, until they are a rich golden color. Be patient and don’t turn them too often; let them brown on one side and then turn to the other.

Pour in the vinegar and wine and bring to the boil. Allow the liquid to reduce for a few minutes, then add the anchovies and the reserved herbs and stir them into the liquid. Put the lid on the pan and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for 1 hour or until the meat falls easily from the bone. This will depend on your type of meat so allow enough time for it to get really soft. Check the pan every so often and add a little hot water if it looks dry. Adjust the seasoning as necessary and serve on soft polenta or with a side of simply blanched spinach.

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    • In the past it was easier to use pork fat to cook rather than expensive olive oil. It has a higher smoke point than olive oil and imparts a subtle flavor to recipes. One of the authors, Giancarlo, remembers doing this in his youth, as when the olive oil had run out for the year, pork fat was the only alternative. They simply rendered down fatty cuts of pork by cooking the chopped fat slowly over a gentle heat. When a pool of fat appears in the bottom of the pan, pour it off into a bowl and return the pan to the heat and continue until no more fat appears from the pieces of pork. Allow the fat to cool, cover and chill in the fridge. It will keep for weeks, even months, and can be spooned out as you need it.

    Recipe Testers' Reviews

    This version of cacciatore has really won me over. Growing up, we spent many an “out to dinner holiday” (i.e. mother’s Day) in one of the classic Occidental restaurants, whether The Union Hotel or Negri’s. Everyone always had minestrone, followed by cacciatore, usually with onions, mushrooms, or other vegetables. What I loved about this version was the more austere treatment. I did add a bit of water both times, and in fact the second version, I still used the full amount of wine and vinegar, though I scaled down everything else, and had to watch that the liquid did not get too low, especially since it made such a perfect pasta sauce. I tried this with guinea legs and thighs and again with just the bone-in thighs, and I think it is easier to manipulate the smaller pieces in the pan for the browning, which you want to be very thorough with since this is the only time it will be able to pick up color. I also made sure that when finished browning, the skin side was up on the pieces so they would retain as much crispness as possible. Use your best anchovies (open that jar of Ortiz with the little tiny fork) and really nice vinegar and wine. Next time I will also be making a nice batch of polenta to go along. I made this first in a heavy, enameled cast iron dutch oven, and the smaller batch in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan that had higher sides than my frying pan, which was too large, I wanted the meat to be a bit more snug. Now I have to make it all over again soon.

    This was simple to make, had great flavor, and yielded tender, juicy chicken. Alongside sautéed spinach, and roasted potatoes, it was a perfect Sunday supper.

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    1. What a wonderful chicken dish! I used bacon fat to brown the chicken pieces & added the rosemary & garlic back to the pan during the 1 hour cooking time (recipe doesn’t say this, which I found odd). There was plenty of moisture in the pan too, and the end result was moist, succulent chicken.

      1. Hi Bette, how lovely to hear from you! So glad that you gave this recipe a whirl and thanks for your suggestion about adding the rosemary and garlic back into the pan.

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